Hospital will continue mission of serving diverse populations

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011

When Vanguard Health Systems takes control of Holy Cross Hospital in Marquette Park later this year, the Sisters of St. Casimir will still take an active role in the 83-yearold institution they started to provide health care for people in their neighborhood.

The congregation, which came close to closing the financially strapped hospital more than once in the last 10 years, has signed a stewardship agreement with Nashville-based Vanguard that ensures that the hospital will follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care. The sisters will maintain an advisory role, and those who work at the hospital — especially in its mission department — will continue to work at the hospital.

The hospital will continue to fulfill its mission of serving the ethnically and economically diverse population of the Southwest Side of Chicago.

‘Delighted’ about deal

Sister Immacula Wendt, the congregation’s general superior, said the congregation was delighted to come to an agreement to sell the hospital and keep its doors open.

The agreement fulfills the three criteria the sisters had, she said, including that the hospital remain Catholic; that there be a cash infusion to pay for needed improvements and obligations to employees, including their pensions; and that the employees be cared for.

“Many of our employees have been here for a long time, and they have been through thick and thin with us,” Sister Immacula said. “Many of them have not had raises for many years.”

Vanguard, a for-profit company, already operates other Chicagoarea health care facilities: MacNeal in Berwyn; Weiss Memorial in Chicago; Westlake in Melrose Park; and West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park.

It also operates at least one Catholic hospital, St. Vincent in Worcester, Mass.

“We verified Vanguard’s experience and commitment to operating a Catholic hospital by visiting with key people at St. Vincent Hospital,” Sister Immacula said.

“We spoke to the chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester, and a diocesan priest who serves as chaplain and ethical director and has been at SVH since before it joined Vanguard.

“SVH is under the oversight of the diocese and three priests, including the bishop and the chancellor of the diocese. It also has an active and strong pastoral-care team.

“The Catholic heritage of the sisters is respected and the charitable mission lives on.”

Near closure

Holy Cross Hospital has teetered on the brink of closure with a weak economy and a high rate of uninsured and underinsured patients, hospital officials said. It used every penny to continue operating, delaying needed improvements and the purchase of new equipment.

While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Sister Immacula said Vanguard would be putting millions of dollars into the hospital and into community outreach efforts.

Cardinal George approved the sale of the hospital Dec. 15. In a statement, he acknowledged that it might be unusual for a for-profit company to own a Catholic institution, but said that he believes the agreement provides a suitable solution to the hospital’s financial difficulties.

“A for-profit Catholic hospital would seem to be counter-intuitive,” the cardinal’s statement said, “but Holy Cross will be sponsored by the Sisters of St. Casimir while owned and operated by Vanguard. … Archdiocesan ethicists have reviewed the proposal of the Sisters of St. Casimir and found it to be ethically and spiritually sound, and the Holy See has approved the transaction.”